Ideas | February 24th 2021

Sustainable Design Forecast

By Henry Celli, CBT Principal  

How can we elevate our sustainable design approach to achieve more holistic designs that not only reduce environmental impact, but also actively contribute to the environments we occupy? The conversation on sustainable building is constantly evolving as we understand more about our relationship with our surroundings, and now beginning to include an emphasis on important topics such as social justice and health and wellbeing. 

Here are the hot topics in sustainable design that we expect to see much more action on this year:

Climate Justice
The current global health crisis only further exposed existing and historical issues of social inequity. This year we should aim to advance the conversation on equity through design practices and leveraging our design methodologies to assure a fair and just environment for all. 

This renewed focus on equitable environments means that creation of healthy, comfortable, and user-oriented environments will be paramount. Strengthened indoor-outdoor connections, access to views, quality indoor air will be key components in urban living. Ensuring carbon balance will require consideration beyond the reduction of carbon emissions in building operations and thinking critically about the materials – and their sources – we use to create these healthy spaces. Measuring carbon emissions in building operations and material construction will be the new energy modeling. 

And let’s not forget water. Some of our biggest concerns in the last decade have focused on energy and carbon, but water is also a scarce resource – just as limited as fossil fuels. Sustainable design should not only reduce use of water, but also clean the water collected on site. 

Net Positive 
Regenerative design is the new sustainable philosophy. How can we move beyond mere mitigation strategies and the idea of “doing less harm,” to instead add value to our environments, create more energy than we use, and sequester carbon? What other strategies are out there to harness energy, capture heat, and produce electricity? How can these strategies be applied to urban environments? 

Adaptive design strategies to accommodate new uses, reduce waste, and add to historical context will also provide new financial opportunities, without losing existing building stock. As land becomes scarcer and more expensive, reviving and adapting buildings so that they both appear and function brand new will offer significant environmental and economic benefit. 

The Building Envelope
We need to continue improving the thermal performance of our envelopes while balancing their emotional performance – the part of the envelope which allows us to negotiate daylight, views, and sensory connections to our immediate environment. As we adapt to changing building codes, we must maintain a balance of sustainable building performance while also capturing daylight and views for the health of the internal user. 

Outdoor Space
Renewed focus on health and wellness will encourage more use of outdoor space year round, and across different seasons and climates. Strategic designs will take into account not only program, but environmental considerations which allow the user greater thermal comfort, both in regions subject to extreme heat and extreme cold. 

CONTEXT is CBT’s ongoing blog series of innovative design thinking, always responding to the changing world around us and our role as creators within it.